DNA Bill 2019: Standing Committee recommends one national data bank, no forceful collection of DNA sample

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February 4, 2021 12:14 PM

Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan had said that the DNA Bill 2019 was for the regulation of use and application of DNA technology for the purpose of establishing identity of missing persons, victims, offenders, under trials and unknown deceased persons.

In 2019, Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan had introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. (PIB)

DNA Data Banks, DNA Technology: The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recognised the importance of DNA technology in cracking crime cases but wants the Centre to allay the fears over its misuse. The Committee has also flagged risks in having a national data bank of DNA. In July 2019, the Centre introduced a bill — The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 — to enable the agencies to use DNA technology while probing crime cases and set up a data bank of DNA.

However, the Standing Committee, in its report tabled in Parliament, said that the “risk with a national databank of crime scene DNA profiles is that it will likely include virtually everyone since DNA is left at the ‘crime scene’ before and after the crime by several persons who may have nothing to do with the crime being investigated.” The committee said that it was of the opinion that an enabling ecosystem must be created soon to ensure DNA profiling is done in a manner that is fully consistent with the letter and spirit of various Supreme Court judgments and with the Constitution.

In 2019, Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan had introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Bill, he said, was for the regulation of use and application of DNA technology for the purpose of establishing identity of missing persons, victims, offenders, under trials and unknown deceased persons.

He also said the proposed legislation will empower the criminal justice delivery system by enabling the application of DNA evidence. “Establishment of the National and Regional DNA Data Banks, as envisaged in the Bill, will assist in forensic investigations,” he added. The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change in October 2019.

The Indian Express reports that a number of legislators who deposed before the committee were apprehensive that the Bill could be misused to target segments of society based on religion, caste or political views. In its report, the panel states that the Committee is conscious of the fact that this Bill is very technical, complex and sensitive.

A number of Members, it says, have expressed concern about the use of DNA technology — or more accurately its misuse — to target different segments of our society based on factors like religion, caste or political views. “These fears are not entirely unfounded (and) have to be recognized and addressed,” the report was quoted as saying by IE.

On the data bank, the Committee states that a crime scene can also have the DNA of someone who was not even there at the time. It says bodily material like hair may have been transported to the crime scene inadvertently by a variety of ways. These DNA profiles, the committee fears, could find their way into the ‘crime scene index. Considering this, these DNA profiles, the committee suggests, be used only for investigation but not put in a national data bank and they are destroyed once a trial is over, preserving those of convicted.

The Bill proposes to have regional databanks besides a central one. However, the panel recommends only one national data Bank to minimise the chances of misuse of data. Earlier, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi and CPI MP Binoy Viswam had raised concerns that provisions of the Bill would lead to violations of the right to privacy. The Standing Committee chairman Jairam Ramesh said concerns raised by both the leaders had been addressed and incorporated in the report.

According to IE, the Department of Biotechnology has argued that nearly 60 countries have enacted similar law, and that all important matters related to privacy, confidentiality and data protection have been taken into consideration. As per the Bill, a DNA Regulatory Board would be set up that would advise the central and state governments on setting up of laboratories, databanks and laying down of guidelines, standards and procedures.

The Committee recommends that this board should be independent and not comprise only serving government officials. It also says that DNA samples be taken only with the consent of an individual and no one should be forced to provide evidence that may incriminate him/her in any crime.

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